Legendary teacher dispels one of the biggest golf-swing myths

man teaches golfer

Golfers are commonly taught to keep their right elbow stuck to their side through the entire swing, but Harvey Penick disagrees.

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Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book should be required reading for golfers looking to improve their games. Penick had a gift for making the complex seem simple, and his teachings ring true to this day. With the PGA Tour heading back to Penick’s home of Austin later this month for the Dell Match Play, there is no better time to revisit the best secrets from his Little Red Book. This article dispels of the biggest golf-swing myths.

Part 1: How to lower your handicap by five strokes
Part 2: What golfers get wrong about their practice swings
Part 3: The simple fundamentals for hitting a perfect bunker shot
Part 4: The 2 most important psychological elements of golf

Stick around golf long enough and you’re sure to hear some common refrains. Keep your head down. Never leave an eagle putt short. Take your hat off when shaking hands. The decorum is as old as the game itself, and tradition is baked into its fabric.

Sometimes, these maxims find their way into the conversation of not only how to act, but also how to swing the club.

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One of the most popular adages says that keeping your right (trail) elbow against your side is the proper way to swing the club. There’s even a common drill that teaches golfers this very fact. You put a towel (or headcover) underneath your trail elbow and try to keep it pinned to your body until you make contact with the ball.

The drill promotes a connection between your arms and your body, which is great! However, according to Harvey Penick, keeping your right elbow glued to your side throughout the entire swing does more harm than good.

“When I say bring your right arm back to your side, I mean on the downswing — not the backswing,” Penick wrote in his Little Red Book. “Students come to me with all sorts of weird ideas they have been taught. They try to swing with a towel under their right armpit. Their right elbow is practically strapped to their body. The result is a swing that is too short and flat.”

Instead, Penick suggests letting your right elbow go back freely, but returing it back to your side when you initiate the downswing.

“Students tell me this towel-under-the-right-armpit drill is an old teaching,” he said. “But the Scots didn’t teach it that way. Look at a photograph of Harry Vardon.”

Your elbow against your side is a good thing, but only during the downswing. Let the elbow be free on the way back, and return it to the proper position when you initiate the downswing. The result will be a more natural and free-flowing swing.


Zephyr Melton

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at zephyr_melton@golf.com.